Annuals · Container Gardening

Ornamental cabbage and kale love it cool!

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Frost pilfers the color from most annuals but ornamental cabbage and kale fight off its assault. Depending on the weather in a particular year, ornamental kale is still beautiful during the holidays at my house!

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The photo on the left shows some ornamental kale in a pot early last December. It was still so pretty I didn’t have the heart to remove it so I just added some berries and greens for the holidays!

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What’s the difference between ornamental cabbage and kale? They are both members of Brassica oleraceas, the same family whose members include broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts and, of course, the cabbage and kale we eat. Botanically speaking, both are kale.

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Botany aside, people apply the term ornamental or flowering cabbage to plants with broad, flat leaves and use the name ornamental or flowering kale when speaking of plants with curly or ruffled foliage. Ornamental kale sometimes grow narrow leaves with an upright habit.

ornamental cabbage with mums and pumpkins

An ornamental cabbage or kale doesn’t care what you call it as long as you take it home to enjoy its dramatic foliage in your fall containers or garden.

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They are easy to grow requiring little care, but cabbage worms are sometimes a problem. If you notice little white butterflies fluttering about plants, they may be laying eggs on the foliage. If you see holes in the leaves, check for caterpillars. Bacillus thuringiensis is a natural control if necessary.

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Purchased early in fall, ornamental cabbages and kale are mostly green with just hints of the color to come. As temperatures cool, their color begins to intensify and with the first frost, bam! Their colors turn bright and beautiful. Best color is achieved in full sun, but they are still striking in light shade.

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Plant them in containers with purple fountain grass, cordyline or lemongrass, mums, and pansies.

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Or plant them in the garden with other fall-bloomers like sedum, annual black-eyed Susan and asters. They are beautiful planted in large groups, along the front of a border, or just to add a pop of color here and there.

While it may be unwise to purchase some fall annuals when the go on a late-season sale at your local garden center, go ahead and snap up some ornamental cabbage and kale. Garden with me!

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